Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review - Seven Stories, Dewhurst Jennings Institute, edited by Ben Walter

At the launch of Seven Stories in Hobart recently Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan said “this is a significant book in Tasmanian letters.” I’ll go further than that - this is a significant book of contemporary writing in Australia, that deserves an international audience.
It is a selection of seven short stories (hence the title) by people writing in Tasmania today. These are writers who are committed to their craft and they are also some of the most exhilarating voices in contemporary literature in Australia. Without exception they transcend the fads and fashions of Australian literature, which is currently stultifying around ‘dusty realism’ and a banal Sydney-Melbourne banter. Seven Stories houses the genius brigade of writing in Tasmania, some of the most exciting writers on the ground at the moment.
The subject matter and styles of these writers vary wildly. There is acute suspenseful realism in ‘The Shy Birds’ by Emma L Waters in which she takes the reader alongside a couple walking on an East Coast beach. They meet an old fellow who offers to show them a special nest, is he genuinely friendly, or malevolent? The tension ebbs and flows with a perfect foreshadowing from the sound of gunshots (the couple then realise there is a rifle club up the road), and the nervous “pip-pipping” of the black and white birds.
Robbie Arnott’s story, ‘The Reach’ is a punch in the guts. Told through the eyes of one young brother experiencing a fit (epilepsy?) and ruining the other’s Lego, it is a tragedy of filial relations in two pages.
Ben Walter, who, through the elusive Dewhurst Jennings Institute put together this selection which won a Community Writers Award (Fellowship of Australian Writers) in 2015, is at his flagrant poetic best with the wild ride that is ‘An Anti-Glacier Book’. This is a lush story, not easy to read, replete with some literary trickery and nods towards writers who made significant literary change in the twentieth century.
Ruairi Murphy roams the library knowledgably and with aplomb, his story about a library closure and what that means for individuals who frequent it, is constructed as a series of vignettes. It is wryly funny, and shot through with darkness. Susie Greenhill, who was awarded the national Richell Prize for manuscripts last year is back with her delicate prose, this time in a story that speaks of love and loss in a war zone. Seem like too big a theme for a short story? Not in Greenhill’s increasingly deft hands.
‘The Chaos of Life Beyond Death in the Outback’ by Adam Ouston is a rambunctious and exhilarating story of a man hitchhiking in the eponymous Outback, picked up by a zombie film making crew, who he eventually murders. Michael Blake’s ‘Donny and Bucket on the Treeless Plain’ completes the anthology. It is about two teenage boys making the break from their home town, making a run for it. It is a liminal story, one that does not cover a journey, but a decision.

The print run of Seven Stories is tiny, but the book is now being picked up by booksellers around the country, I urge you to get your hands on the book while you still can.

A version of this review appeared in TasWeekends, May 6, 2017 
This review is dedicated to Tadhg Muller who coined the term "genius brigade"

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